Iraqi security forces retook a town north of Baghdad from a terrrorist-led rebel army Saturday, as they readied a counterattack after the prime minister announced the Cabinet granted him "unlimited powers."
Troops and tribal militia found the burned bodies of 12 policemen as they recaptured Ishaqi in Salaheddin province from Sunni Arab insurgents, a police colonel and a doctor said.
It was one of the closest points to the capital that the militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria had reached in the offensive that saw them overrun a large chunk of northern and north-central Iraq this week.
Troops also retook the nearby Muatassam area of Salaheddin, the police colonel said.
On Friday night, police and residents expelled militants from another town in the province, Dhuluiyah, where they had set up checkpoints, witnesses said.
"Residents are now firing into the air" in celebration, witness Abu Abdullah told AFP.
Security forces have also held fast in the Muqdadiyah area of Diyala province, preventing militants from taking the town in heavy fighting, a police colonel said.
In Samarra, further north in Salaheddin province, reinforcements from the federal police and army arrived on Friday to bolster the defenses of the city, which is home to a revered Shiite shrine, an army colonel said.
The reinforcements were awaiting orders to launch a counter-offensive against areas north of the city, including Dur and Tikrit, that the militants seized earlier this week, the officer said.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki travelled to Samarra for a security meeting on Friday, also visiting the city's Al-Askari shrine, which was bombed by militants in 2006, sparking a sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis that killed tens of thousands.
Al-Maliki, a Shiite, said that "the cabinet granted the prime minister, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, unlimited powers" to combat the militants, in a statement posted late Friday on his website.
His opponents have long accused him of monopolizing power and moving towards dictatorship, and the announcement is likely to deepen those fears.
© AFP 2014